Sleep Better In 5 Steps

Nov 19, 2021 | General | 0 comments

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Ways To Sleep Better At Night

Getting a good nights sleep can be a struggle in our highly industrialised modern world. But thankfully there are habits we can start to develop to help us get better rest at night. Let’s now discuss five easy steps that you can start using today to begin to encourage refreshing sleep!

1. Limit Screen Time Late At Night

In our modern, technological age, it often goes under the radar how much time we now spend staring at screens even late in to the night. Whether it be a mobile phone, a computer screen, or a television, most of us in the modern world are having excess screen time late in to the evening. This is detrimental to sleep quality for a number of reasons.

Screen Time At Night Hinders Good Quality Sleep
Shining a Beam Of Information In To Your Eyes Unfortunately Doesn’t Help Sleep

Firstly, the content of our devices is often psychologically stimulating. An engrossing new show, an exciting video game, a compelling argument on a Twitter feed. In whatever form it comes in, these forms of media are stimulating the release of excitatory neurotransmitters such as dopamine and norepinephrine. [1]

Video games are one of the most destructive forms of late night screen usage when it comes to our sleep pattern. Video games stimulate the sympathetic nervous system, and trigger a release of a wide range of stimulatory neurotransmitters that promote wakefulness and hinder sleep onset. [2]

It is also becoming increasingly well known that the blue light emitted by modern screens can negatively affect our sleep mechanisms. [3] For many species, including homosapiens, blue light is an important external indicator of daybreak, as the atmospheric light at sunrise has a blueish quality to it. There are deep rooted, ancient mechanisms in our brains that sense this blue light and are hardwired to react to it by providing wake up signals to the body. External sources of blue light can help trigger many chemical and hormonal processes that start to prepare the body for the day.

If you haven’t already, it is highly recommended that you use the ‘Night Light’ or ‘Night Shift’ settings on your device, to put a ‘Blue Light Filter’ on after around 7pm or so. This is not as effective as simply not using the devices at all after this time, but it is a step in the right direction and can offer a marginal gain. As it is simple to set up, it is worth taking this step.

This feature is quite ubiquitous on modern devices but please leave a comment if you can’t figure out how to set it up on yours, and I would be happy to guide you through it!

2. Keep The Bedroom For Sleeping Only

Ideally, this tip is applied to the bedroom as a whole. Psychologically, you want to associate your bedroom with a place that is for sleeping so that your mind knows exactly what to do when you are in there. Given most of our housing conditions and the current increase in home working situations, this may not be possible to apply to the whole room. However, if you cannot apply it to the whole room, it is very much recommended that you try and keep the bed itself ‘sacred’ as a place for sleep.

Keep The Bed For Sleep Only
Keep Potential Distractions Out Of The Bedroom

Humans are creatures of habit, and this is true on the unconscious level too. Our behaviour is constantly being conditioned by the way we interact with our world and the results it provides. A modern day phenomenon of laying in bed to watch Netflix or YouTube is going to create deep seated neurological connections to the place and the activity. Therefore, the more one engages in this unhealthy practice, the stronger and more entrenched the neural pathways of the behaviour become. [4]

The unfortunate result of this, is that upon laying in bed, the chances of the mind desiring to open up the laptop or turn on the television are increased incrementally. The gravitational pull of this effect is worsened by the fact that fast, quick entertainment will provide a mood lifting effect. Mapping this effect on to addiction models, we can see how this provides a positive feedback loop, where one can find their brains calling out for this entertainment at the worst possible time! [5]

Many reading this will have had the unpleasant experience of laying down in the dark to get some sleep, but their unconscious mind runs restlessly playing out all sorts of tempting and enticing schemes. Resisting these temptations is difficult once the mental circuits are well established, so setting up firm rules as to what you let yourself do in the bedroom is a great way to combat this. A consistent and determined routine can stop disruptive behaviours from getting a foothold.

There are a few tactics you can use here. You could try getting rid of technological devices from your bedroom such as computers or televisions. This would be a statement that the bedroom is for sleeping only, and will help reset associations with playing a video game or watching a show when you are lying in bed.

Another good move is to keep your phone out of reach from you when you are in bed. By leaving your phone across the room from you rather than right next to you, you can get one step ahead of that urge to pick it up if you are struggling to sleep. This can help break the urge and temptation to continuously reach for the phone and head for social media.

3. Avoid Prescription Sleeping Pills

Whilst these drugs certainly provide fast and effective relief from insomnia, they are also highly efficient at destroying your natural sleeping rhythms. Research has consistently found that sleep induced through medication is of worse quality than natural sleep. [6]

Natural Sleep Is Better Quality Than That Induced By Pills
Try Your Best To Avoid Using On Prescription Medication To Sleep

Medications also often produce side effects, and many of the most commonly prescribed options for insomnia have significant adverse effect profiles.

Another issue with relying on prescription medications is of course the potential for addiction. Benzodiazepines, a class of drugs often prescribed to relieve insomnia, are extremely addictive, and can induce dependency after a week of use.

Withdrawal from these medications often results in a rebound effect, producing insomnia, and thus creating a vicious cycle of usage. These drugs are incredibly hard to stop using once the process has been set in motion, and so the best practice is to try and avoid these whenever possible.

For an indication of how damaging Benzodiazepine addiction can be, please note that many who have gone through hard drug withdrawals consider Benzodiazepines have worse withdrawal symptoms than a Heroin addiction.

If you would be concerned about starting a Heroin habit, consider having the same view on Benzodiazepine usage. Indeed, the withdrawals from Benzodiazepines are so vicious, that some people need to be put into induced comas to survive the withdrawals, as is the case of Canadian Psychologist Jordan Peterson.

If an individual is fully addicted to Benzodiazepines, withdrawal symptoms can be fatal if that individual does not stop using them in the correct way.

In recent years, scientists have begun to feel that Doctors in the Western world, and particularly in the United States of America are prescribing these drugs far too easily.

If you find yourself struggling to sleep to the point that you absolutely must try taking something for it, consider first exploring some natural options first. There are many options on the market, with CBD oil and Time-Release Melatonin being popular options among many today. For more information about non-prescription sleep aids, please see our article talking about some of the options by clicking here.

4. Keep A Disciplined Routine

Human biology plays out in patterns and rhythms, and napping can easily disturb these. Many cycles in our bodies are synchronized to the length of an earth day, and so play out over 24 hours. These are called circadian rhythms. Melatonin is one of the key hormones linked to inducing sleep, and it has a clear circadian rhythm in which it peaks in the blood at around midnight in most people.

Naps Can Disrupt Your Sleep Schedule
Keep Bedtimes And Wake Times Consistent And Regular

Cortisol is another hormone that has a clear circadian rhythm. Cortisol is a stress hormone that is released upon experiencing stressors to make us more alert and ready for action. Under normal conditions, Cortisol is at it’s lowest at around midnight for most people, and reaches peak production at around 6am to 8am. [7]

These cycles seem to suggest that the average person’s sleep cycle would benefit most from getting to sleep at around 11pm and waking up around 7am. It is perhaps then no surprise that society at large has adopted similar schedule for it’s every day functions!

It is important to remember that our body craves routine, and by keeping your sleep schedule regular, you are promoting the development of healthy circadian rhythms. For this reason, sleeping in later on weekends might not be such a good idea after all, as tempting as it may be! Aim to allocate a full eight hours sleep each night in your schedule, and try your best to stick to the times you choose.

You may find that naps are disrupting your sleep schedule. If you can, try and avoid napping to see if this helps encourage a sleep wake cycle. Many people find that napping has a detrimental effect on their sleep cycles, and many people struggle to sleep well at night if they have napped in the evening.

Your results may vary, but if you find yourself feeling groggy and confused after napping in the afternoon or evening, try to power through and get an earlier night instead. It’s also worth asking yourself why you need to nap in the afternoon in the first place. Are you overworked? Are you getting enough sleep at night? Is your sleep of poor quality at night? There are many potential causes for daytime sleepiness and sometimes fixing the problem at source can offer relief in many other parts of your life.

Some individuals do perform better by utilising so called ‘Power-Naps’ in the afternoons. Power naps. If you are someone who feels better after napping, try and keep your naps 10-20 minutes long and at the same time each day. Try to nap in the early afternoon if possible. As long as you are consistent in your routine, you should still begin to see benefits in your sleep quality.

5. Reduce Artificial Lighting At Night

As discussed briefly in our first point, light plays a key role in regulating our sleeping patterns. Modern living has created a very unnatural environment in which we are constantly surrounded by artificial lighting. In contrast to the fires, candles, or oil lamps of our ancestors, we now contend with bright LED lighting illuminating our evenings. It has been well documented how artificial lighting is negatively affecting animals [8], and similar logic applies to us humans too.

Artificial Lighting Affects Our Sleep Wake Cycle
Our Circadian Rhythms Are Influenced By Our Environment

All Mammals have a cluster of nerve cells called the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus (SCN), which is located in the hypothalamus. The SCN receives information about lighting in the environment through the optic nerves. The SCN is one of the key pacemakers in the brain and serves as a hub for our internal clocks, and morning light is one of the key mechanisms by which our brains are able to tune in and synchronize with the cycles of day and night. [9]

It stands to reason then, that we should try and avoid brightly lit areas in our evenings and nights, as these may serve to deceive our brains about the time of day. By depriving our eyes of natural darkness, we disrupt our circadian rhythms and prevent proper synchronization with day and night.

This logic has been backed up by scientific research. A study by Boivin et al in 1996 [10] found that artificial lighting has a direct impact on circadian rhythms, with a direct correlation between brighter lights having more effect, and dimmer lights having less effect.

Another study by RG Stevens in 2006 [11] suggested that exposure to artificial lighting and it’s disruption on circadian rhythms could lead dysfunctional melatonin production. With concern, this study also suggested that this could be one of the mechanisms that leads to women in industrialised societies tending to develop breast cancer more frequently than women in non industrialised ones. Whilst this connection has not been conclusively proven, it is nonetheless something to consider.

With all this in mind, it is best practice to avoid excessively bright lights during evenings and nights. Whilst some level of artificial lighting is unavoidable in our modern world, it is worth thinking about how our ancestors would have lived, and how unnatural our constant light exposure actually is. Having a couple of lamps on is likely to produce less of a disruptive effect than bright LED room lighting.

Conclusion

We hope that these five simple steps can help you get a better nights’ sleep and improve your energy levels through the day. If you have any questions then feel free to leave a comment!


[References]

1. Makalesi, Araştırma & Article, Research & Macit, Hüseyin & Öğr, Macit & Gör, Mehmet & Akif, Ersoy & Üniversitesi, Tefenni & Bakanlığı, Maliye & Güngör, Orhan & Gör, Öğr & Akif, Mehmet & Üniversitesi, Ersoy. (2019). A Research On Social Media Addiction and Dopamine Driven Feedback. 5. 882-897.

2. Koepp MJ, Gunn RN, Lawrence AD, Cunningham VJ, Dagher A, Jones T, Brooks DJ, Bench CJ, Grasby PM. Evidence for striatal dopamine release during a video game. Nature. 1998 May 21;393(6682):266-8. doi: 10.1038/30498. PMID: 9607763.

3. Kayaba M, Iwayama K, Ogata H, Seya Y, Kiyono K, Satoh M, Tokuyama K. The effect of nocturnal blue light exposure from light-emitting diodes on wakefulness and energy metabolism the following morning. Environ Health Prev Med. 2014 Sep;19(5):354-61. doi: 10.1007/s12199-014-0402-x. Epub 2014 Aug 5. Erratum in: Environ Health Prev Med. 2015 Jan;20(1):76-7. PMID: 25092557; PMCID: PMC4166587.

4. Donahoe JW. Selection networks: Simulation of plasticity through reinforcement learning. In: Packard Dorsel V, Donahoe JW, editors. Neural-networks models of cognition. Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Elsevier Science B. V.; 1997. pp. 336–357. 

5. O’Brien CP, Childress AR, McLellan AT, Ehrman R. A learning model of addiction. Res Publ Assoc Res Nerv Ment Dis. 1992;70:157-77. PMID: 1535929.

6. Holbrook AM, Crowther R, Lotter A, Cheng C, King D. Meta-analysis of benzodiazepine use in the treatment of insomnia. CMAJ. 2000 Jan 25;162(2):225-33. PMID: 10674059; PMCID: PMC1232276.

7. Mohd Azmi NAS, Juliana N, Azmani S, Mohd Effendy N, Abu IF, Mohd Fahmi Teng NI, Das S. Cortisol on Circadian Rhythm and Its Effect on Cardiovascular System. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Jan 14;18(2):676. doi: 10.3390/ijerph18020676. PMID: 33466883; PMCID: PMC7830980.

8. Owens, ACS, Lewis, SM. The impact of artificial light at night on nocturnal insects: A review and synthesis. Ecol Evol. 2018; 8: 11337– 11358. https://doi.org/10.1002/ece3.4557

9. Warren EJ, Allen CN, Brown RL, Robinson DW. The light-activated signaling pathway in SCN-projecting rat retinal ganglion cells. Eur J Neurosci. 2006 May;23(9):2477-87. doi: 10.1111/j.1460-9568.2006.04777.x. PMID: 16706854; PMCID: PMC2435203.

10. Boivin DB, Duffy JF, Kronauer RE, Czeisler CA. Dose-response relationships for resetting of human circadian clock by light. Nature. 1996 Feb 8;379(6565):540-2. doi: 10.1038/379540a0. PMID: 8596632.

11. Stevens RG, Blask DE, Brainard GC, Hansen J, Lockley SW, Provencio I, Rea MS, Reinlib L. Meeting report: the role of environmental lighting and circadian disruption in cancer and other diseases. Environ Health Perspect. 2007 Sep;115(9):1357-62. doi: 10.1289/ehp.10200. PMID: 17805428; PMCID: PMC1964886.

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Written by Keymer Health

November 19, 2021

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